Millennium Post

China’s winning ways in Tajikistan

Extending credits worth almost $2 billion, mighty China is spreading its influence to its poor ex-Soviet neighbour Tajikistan in the hope of winning mineral riches and a loyal strategic ally.

Tajikistan is the poorest nation to have emerged from the USSR's collapse, with a gross national income per capita of $780 per year and around 40 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) coming from remittances from migrants working abroad, according to the World Bank.

Yet the mainly Muslim nation is no longer looking to its ex-Soviet master Moscow to provide crucial assistance in building infrastructure but China with whom it shares a 500-kilometre (300-mile) border across the Pamir mountains.

Analysts say China's economic largesse is winning the modern day version of the 19th century Great Game in Tajikistan as the West, Russia and Beijing jostle for influence in states neighbouring conflict-wracked Afghanistan.

On a visit to China by Tajikistan president Emomali Rakhmon this month, the two sides signed agreements for Beijing to extend $1 billion to Dushanbe in grants and credits.

Some $600 million dollars alone would go towards building a cement factory in the south of Tajikistan.

'Relations with China have the position of priority in Tajikistan's foreign policy,' Rakhmon told Chinese President Hu Jintao, quoted by his press service.

This new credit came on top of the $900 million that China has been disbursing since 2005 to help Tajikistan build new roads, tunnels and electricity lines.

Cooperation with China represents Tajikistan's best hope of economic and political stability as it recovers from the civil war that threatened to make it a failed state after the fall of the Soviet Union.

It offers the country a chance to develop new sources of income, away from its traditional reliance on production of cotton and aluminium and the remittances from labour migrants.

Tajikistan has leased out some 600 hectares of agricultural land in its south to a Chinese company which are showing great success.

The Chinese National Petroleum Company (CNPC) has already started oil and gas exploration work in Tajikistan at the same time as Russia's Gazprom and Canada's Tethys, which are also searching for gas.

China's Zijin Mining Group has invested $200 million into gold mining in Tajikistan. It is hoped that the Chinese-Tajik joint venture will expend annual gold production to five tonnes in 2016 from the current 1.3 tonnes.

According to political analyst Abdugani Mamadazimov, China wants to see a stable and prosperous Tajikistan, especially as the country borders China's restive Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, home of the Uighur minority.

Beijing also sees Tajikistan as a key transit point for receiving gas supplies in the future from Iran for its energy-hungry population, he added.

'China wants stable and peaceful neighbours... By investing in projects in Tajikistan, China is determining its interests.'

In a sign of Tajikistan's eagerness to please its new ally, Dushanbe last year approved a border demarcation agreement that saw Tajikistan cede 1,122 square kilometres (433 square miles) of uninhabited mountainous land to China.

The area represented almost one per cent of its territory but the handover ended a dispute that had been running for almost 130 years and was hailed as a triumph in Tajikistan.

Trade volumes between China and Tajikistan are $2 billion, a huge figure for the Central Asian country which has a population of just 7.5 million.

'At the current time China is the preferred economic partner of Tajikistan,' said the director of the Kontent think tank, Zafar Abudullayev. 'China is always going to want Tajikistan to remain in its sphere of political influence.'

He rejected the idea that China's growing influence is a threat to Tajikistan's sovereignty, saying the main threat for the country was internal corruption and poor management.

'China in fact is one of the guarantees of independence of the Tajik nation,' he said. 'Tajikistan can and needs to cooperate with China on an advantageous basis.'

The devastating civil war between Islamists and backers of Rakhmon ended in 1997 after the loss of tens of thousands of lives. Tajikistan is still fighting outbursts of Islamist militancy.

By Akbar Borisov, courtesy AFP.
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